The End?

November 28, 2012

As a kid in the ’70s and a teenager in the ’80s, I lived in that world of limited entertainment options unfathomable now.

Our small town in the hinterlands had an old movie theater and the movies of the day usually made it to the screen, but it might take a month or two.

Most of the movies that I watched were ones that I’d catch on one of our half-dozen television channels late at night or on Saturday afternoons. These were often flicks from the ’50s and ’60s and, at the conclusion of the movie, “The End” appeared on the screen.

The message might be in a block-like font or perhaps some more sweeping script.

If it was science-fiction or horror flick the notification might be accompanied by a question mark.

(of course, depending on the hour, I might have missed that exit sign, waking to a television full of snow)

At some point over the recent holiday, I watched some old movie – it might have been something on Mystery Science Theater 3000- and, at its conclusion, “The End” appeared on the screen.

Movies no longer end with “The End.” It’s straight to the credits.

(and, if you’re watching a flick on ‘TBS, the credits scroll by in a dizzying, time-compressed fashion in a fraction of the screen as the announcer is queuing up the next film – it’s like they’re rushing an unwanted house guest out the door )

At some point, during my lifetime, filmmakers no longer felt the need to inform the audience that the movie was over.

But was such a message ever necessary? Did people simply sit in the theater, confused by the credits and unsure of what to do, not knowing whether or not the characters which they’d been watching would return?

So some innovative mind invented “The End” and, from that point on, there was no confusion.

And somewhere in the last few decades, we as a species have advanced enough that, when a movie ends, we no longer need to be told.

And that’s a small step forward on the evolutionary trail that we all should feel good about.

Here are four movie songs…

Elton John – I’ve Seen That Movie Too
from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

Elton John produced a staggering amount of amazing music in the ’70s and his classic album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road has a little bit of everything that made him a superstar for the ages.

It’s not difficult to picture Elton playing the resigned I’ve Seen That Movie Too in some piano bar at an hour when the crowd has dwindled. Personally, I connect the song to Guns N’ Roses’ as Axl Rose has claimed Elton as an influence and “I’ve seen that movie, too” popped up as a line in the band’s You Could Be Mine.

The Auteurs – Underground Movies
from Now I’m A Cowboy (1994)

The Auteurs received kudos and even moderate success in their UK homeland but little notice in the States. It’s unfortunate as the quartet garnered comparisons to The Kinks and The Smiths for their literate pop.

Underground Movies is a lovely song with a light, baroque pop feel accented by cello.

The 6ths – Movies In My Head
from Wasps’ Nests (1995)

I snagged a copy of The 6ths’ debut as a promo when it came out in ’95. The album was a collection of songs written and performed by Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields with an array of guests handling the vocals.

Movies In My Head is a perky bit of twee pop featuring Yo La Tengo founding member and percussionist Georgia Hubley who finds the visual vignettes showing widescreen in her head to be more interesting than a would-be suitors’ efforts to gain her attention.

Stan Ridgway – Beloved Movie Star
from Holiday in Dirt (2002)

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might be recognizable. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never equaled the success of Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the noirish Beloved Movie Star, a song about a faded film star which evokes both sympathy and amusement.

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The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2010

December 30, 2010

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Two years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2010 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. Paul Simon – Slip Slidin’ Away
from Negotiations And Love Songs 1971-1986
The Blizzard Of ’78

“Wikipedia is one site that, if I’m not careful, can suck me in for lengthy periods…”

9. The La’s – Timeless Melody
from The La’s
Bales Of Hay, Wheels Of Cheese And Liverpool

“The first time I visited the UK, it was with a friend, TJ, and another friend of his, Donna, whom I didn’t know. It was a memorable two and a half weeks in a rented Daewoo…”

8. The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled
Once The Future Of American Music…

“In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning…”

7. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Change Of Heart
from Long After Dark
The Colonel

“Growing up in a basketball-mad state and half an hour away from the school that inspired the movie Hoosiers, this time of year meant the culmination of the hoops season with the state-wide tournament…”

6. Jason & The Scorchers – Take Me Home, Country Roads
from A Blazing Grace
Cover Me

“These are the times that try men’s souls and cause them to sweat in places I wouldn’t have thought possible…”

5. The Brothers Johnson – Stomp!
from Light Up The Night
Little. Yellow. Different.

“Thirty years ago, my friends and I were still living in a pinball world – pay your quarter, release the plunger, and hope you didn’t watch the ball drain straight through the flippers as you furiously and helplessly caused them to pummel nothing but air…”

4. Elvis Costello – Days
from Until The End Of The World soundtrack
“They Shot Down The Satellite…It’s The End Of The World”

There’s a cool blog called The Song In My Head Today that I happened across not long ago. Recently, the subject was favorite movie soundtracks…”

3. Donnie Iris – Ah! Leah!
from Back On The Streets
Peaches

“Even before I really cared much about music, I knew the name Peaches. I’d seen it on the t-shirts of the cool high school kids in my hometown…”

2. Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat
Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

“Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful….”

1. Marshall Crenshaw – Cynical Girl
from Marshall Crenshaw
Bye Bye, 97X?

“I’ve noted on a number occasions what a wonderous discovery it was the day that I happened across the then-new WOXY in autumn of ’83…”


Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

November 6, 2010

Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful.

We happened across it, several months ago, while channel-surfing one morning, and we stopped. It was as though the universe had thrown down the gauntlet and we felt compelled to push ourselves to watch as much as possible.

(twisted, yes, but hasn’t everyone done this?)

But, I’ve hit Pretty In Pink tonight and I realize that it’s difficult for me not to think of the movie Mannequin each and every time that Andrew McCarthy appears onscreen

As Blaine, the romantic interest of Molly Ringwald, McCarthy has the charisma of tepid soup.

I first saw Pretty In Pink at a midnight showing in the autumn of 1986 and McCarthy’s uninspired performance bothered me then. Now – post-Mannequin – I keep hoping that this is an alternate version and the movie ends with Blaine’s head on a stick.

Pretty In Pink is a John Hughes classic and a defining ’80s flick, but it wasn’t burned into my consciousness like the late writer/director’s The Breakfast Club, from the year before, had been.

That movie’s dialogue had become central to the syntax spoken amongst me and my friends when it was released during our junior year of high school.

But, as I was of a certain age at the time, I still watch Pretty In Pink if we cross paths.

Molly Ringwald is still endearing, but it’s Annie Potts as Ringwald’s best friend Iona that has always been far more interesting to me.

She’s aesthetically pleasing, owns a record store, wields a staple gun like a gunslinger, and is named Iona.

Neat.

It’s that record store, though, that increasingly stirred my imagination as I continued to watch. It was like seeing an old home movie.

In college, there were half a dozen record stores within mere blocks of one another. It would have been unthinkable at the time had I been told that they all would be gone less than two decades after I’d graduate.

I’d like to think that Iona still has her shop, staple gun still blazing, but I know that’s unlikely.

(at least Andrew McCarthy seems to have vanished, too)

Pretty In Pink‘s soundtrack brought wider exposure to acts like New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, and – with the title song – The Psychedelic Furs. Though I was in college, our school’s radio station was all duct tape and chicken wire with a range of three blocks.

Ironically, I had had more opportunity to hear the music of the nascent college rock scene during my last couple years of high school despite living in a small town in the hinterlands as I was within range and listening to 97X.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

When 97X went on the air in the autumn of ’83, the station not only exposed me to acts that I would never hear on the mainstream stations to which I was listening, I also heard songs that, months later, would become mainstream hits.

(Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Peter Schilling’s Major Tom, and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun immediately come to mind)

The ethereal synth-pop track Send Me An Angel by Australians Real Life was another song that I heard for months on 97X before being surprised to hear it on Top 40 stations in early ’84.

Oingo Boingo – Just Another Day
from Dead Man’s Party

It wasn’t 97X, MTV, or the movie Weird Science – for which the band provided the title song – that offered me my first opportunity to hear Oingo Boingo.

It was Dr. Demento airing the Hollywood band’s song Insects on his weekly show a couple years before 97X even existed.

Of course, lead singer Danny Elfman has gone on to great success scoring films, but Oingo Boingo had quite a cult following in Southern California and the group managed to notch a couple minor hits along the way including the twitchy, darkly-tinged Just Another Day.

Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might sound familiar. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never recaptured the audience that discovered Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the film noirish Drive She Said.

The Alarm – Sixty-Eight Guns
from Declaration

Earnest and idealistic, The Alarm had a lot in common with U2 when both bands emerged as part of the post-punk scene in the early ’80s. In fact, The Alarm served as a support act for U2 as the latter was breaking in the States with War in ’83, but as U2 marched onward to superstardom, The Alarm remained a fringe act.

But The Alarm was a contender for a time and, though their albums were inconsistent and their sonic range somewhat limited, the Welsh quartet proved more than capable of delivering some stellar moments such as the bracing anthem Sixty-Eight Guns.